Ben Simmons looks to lighten workload as Nets return looms
The Nets will see more Ben Simmons soon.
Then they hope they will begin to see less of him, as well as less of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neale and the main contributors through the first 25 games of their season.
Simmons, who has missed the past three games with a calf strain , expects to sit Wednesday against the Hornets but believes he will return Friday against the Hawks.
After a season lost because of a back issue (that required offseason surgery) and mental health concerns in Philadelphia, Simmons had hit his stride before he went down Nov. 28 during a win over the Magic . That game represented the back end of a back-to-back in which Simmons played both, as well as his fifth game in seven days. In the first four games of the stretch of schedule he called “crazy,” Simmons averaged 33.2 minutes.
“I think we’re definitely going to look at [workload] a lot differently,” Simmons said Tuesday, after a day of light activities at the Nets’ practice facility. “Maybe not [playing] back-to-backs or whatever it is. I think that’s going to be a joint thing with the training staff and with myself.”
Head coach Jacque Vaughn endorsed the expected tapering off of time for Simmons as well as for several of his teammates. Durant, the team’s lone star who has been available throughout, leads the NBA in minutes. O’Neale, who has never left the starting lineup, entered Tuesday in second in the category. Irving was suspended eight games, but the point guard has averaged 38.7 minutes in his past six games.
The Nets (13-12) have needed every second of their best players to claw above .500, but Vaughn acknowledged the current pace is not sustainable.
“In an ideal scope of things, we don’t want to play Kevin that amount of minutes going forward. And hopefully we get to a point where Ben’s minutes aren’t where they were previously, Ky’s minutes aren’t where they were previously,” Vaughn said before the Nets’ sixth game of their seven-game homestand Wednesday. “[We hope] that we have the depth that we can space and share some of those minutes amongst a few guys going forward and trending towards what we want to get to once playoffs come around.”
If the Nets find health — with Simmons on the doorstep and Yuta Watanabe not far behind, as well as T.J. Warren returning last week — the minutes would be easier to manage, which will be important particularly for Simmons.
The point guard/center has not played more than 58 games in a season since 2018-19. He missed his entire rookie campaign following foot surgery, suffered through lower back and knee problems in 2019-20, which included a knee surgery, and encountered more knee issues the following season.
He did not play at all last season and returned rusty and timid, but he had begun to look like himself — an offensive creator and versatile, shutdown defender — before the calf problem developed.
Simmons said the time off has been “super frustrating” but has allowed him to build some muscle around the calf.see also Kevin Durant’s current Nets burden is ‘not ideal’
“Just gotta be smart,” said Simmons, who is averaging 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 17 games. “It’s about being healthy at the end of the year. You want your guys to be healthy and ready to go.”
Vaughn has been trying to save the team’s energy and legs in subtler ways, including skipping a formal practice Tuesday for what he called a “get what you need” day. Players out of the rotation could do on-court work, while others could shoot or see a trainer or a massage therapist. Additionally, the Nets will not have an early-morning shootaround before facing Charlotte on Wednesday.
Durant has carried the Nets for more than a quarter of the season, and Vaughn said the team needed to see some victories to help everyone buy in to the program.
As Simmons nears his return, the Nets hope they will return to a more sensible distribution of minutes.
“It’s going to take everybody. Some guys might not play one night,” Simmons said. “We got to make sacrifices and do what we can to help win games.”